Lost But Not Forgotten

This image is of my daughter taking a bow after dancing to the song “I Will Follow Him” in a talent show at our church in October of 1995.  I pulled this from one frame of a shaky and out of focus video of the performance, shot by a very poor videographer (me), using a video camera that was old and tired even then. The video’s quality has not been helped by its later conversion from VHS to DVD and then (recently) to MP4.

Despite the faded and poor quality imagery, my memory of her performance that day is sharp and clear, and always will be.   She was only six years old at the time.  She selected the song by herself and used what she’d learned in her Ballet lessons to choreograph the dance on her own.  And, she selected her outfit for the performance – a red “twirly hoop dress” – all by herself, too.

She did a fabulous job, and kept her composure even when an excited toddler ran on to the stage during the dance.  The congregation let her know their appreciation with a rousing ovation and cheers.  She did great.  I was a very, very proud father that day.

But, it is also a memory tinged with sadness.  A few years later, our relationship was destroyed in the death of my first marriage: I was shut out of her life without any choice or voice in the matter, and know almost nothing of her life since.  I doubt that this rupture will ever be healed.

Continue reading “Lost But Not Forgotten”

When he became a she – walking in love

I just had to share this beautiful post, no additional commentary needed…

The other day, Zac and I went into a retail store and were greeted by an associate. I soon recognized the associate as someone I used to go to church with years ago. Someone close to my age, who I …

Source: When he became a she – walking in love

Hateful Speech vs. Hate Speech

U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally in Bloomington
Trump speaks at a campaign rally in Bloomington, Illinois, March 13, 2016. REUTERS/Jim Young

There are two things of note in a recent article in the the LA Times about Students successfully rallying to Stop Trump’s recent scheduled appearance at the University of Illinois in Chicago.

The first is regarding the angry assertions of Trump and his supporters that their rights to “Free Speech” were violated because the rally was shut down. (Which, by the way, is despite Trump stating at the time that he agreed the rally had to be cancelled because safety must come first.)

We need to remember that there is a difference between “Hateful Speech” or “Angry Speech” and “Hate Speech.”

I may see someone’s stances on various issues as “hateful”, but that is my own opinion, based on how I see that particular issue. And, it is the Other’s right to have that opinion, a right I will defend on their behalf even though I may strongly disagree with their position. The same goes for “Angry Speech”: Anger is a valid emotion, and must be given space to be expressed. That it is present in a dialog is important: the Other’s anger must be acknowledged and appreciated as real and important.

It is important for such speech to be heard, even if we disagree with it. It is part of the fabric of a healthy Democracy.

Continue reading “Hateful Speech vs. Hate Speech”

Rejection

…Rejection is less about the person being rejected and more about the person who is doing the rejecting. Rejection occurs because you do not fit the mold that another has sought to place upon you. This does not mean they don’t love you, but it does mean they do not know how to love you.

You cannot change how they see you and love you. But, you can continue to love them in some fashion, perhaps distantly, and give them the time and space they need to confront themselves and to learn that they need to grow and change, just as you have grown and changed.

breakupThere was a young woman I recently encountered through an online forum who had “come out” to her parents, only to have them seemingly reject her in some unhealthy and painful ways.  She did not give much detail, but it was clear it was a painful experience for her (as many of my friends and readers have also experienced, or can imagine).

Here is the counsel I gave her (with some minor edits), which I hope may be of help for others who are also experiencing rejection.  (…Though we must also recognize that there are many out there, especially those who are the survivors of abuse, for whom such an approach will only promote or increase the pain they are experiencing, rather than bringing the healing they are looking for.)


 

…From the tiny bit you’ve said it sounds to me like your parents are going through an identity crisis. They see you as an extension of themselves. (And we are all extensions of our parents in many different ways, aren’t we?)  So, they are confused and distraught because their daughter has suddenly turned out to be someone entirely different (in their minds) from the person they thought she was.

This has shaken their own self image to the core, and they are probably reacting in all sorts of unhealthy ways because of it. I suspect they love you deeply, but are realizing – at some deep and probably unconscious level – that to love this person who is their daughter as deeply as they do means some major readjustments in their own life, with their relationships with you, and even with their relationship with each other and with their God, all of which is scary. They are no longer the parents they thought they were, but something else, some other kind of parent.

Speaking as the parent of an adult child myself, it’s a hard adjustment. Your parents have to learn to accept you as an adult, someone who has their own life to live.  They raised you to be such a person, but didn’t really realize until now that raising you to be a strong and independent person resulted in you becoming a strong and independent person!

In a way, your roles have been reversed: you are now the adult, and they are the ones who need to grow up a bit more.  They’ll need time and space to come to that place of acceptance, so don’t give up on them, but also don’t try to “make” them see and accept the truth of who you are, it is best to let that happen when the time is right.

Show them how to love you as you are, that you are a wonderful person in large part because of who they are – just as they hoped you would be.  And, let the Spirit of the God you share with them give all of you peace as you weather the storms and adjustments that are taking place as they adjust to this new reality in their lives.

My prayers are with you all.


 

In my experience, rejection is less about the person being rejected and more about the person who is doing the rejecting.  Rejection occurs because you do not fit the mold that another has sought to place upon you.  This does not mean they don’t love you, but it does mean they do not know how to love you.  

You cannot change how they see you and love you.  But, you can continue to love those who reject you in some fashion, perhaps distantly, and give them the time and space they need to confront themselves and to learn that they need to grow and change, just as you have grown and changed.

Peace,

Pastor Allen


 

Copyright (c) 2015, Allen Vander Meulen III, all rights reserved.  I’m happy to share my writings with you, as long as proper credit for my authorship is given. (e.g., via a credit that gives my full name and/or provides a link back to this site – or just email me and ask!)

What is a “Respectful Dialog”?

I welcome and enjoy hearing out viewpoints different from my own – and almost always learn something valuable from such discussions. But, abusive speech is never acceptable, and won’t be tolerated. It’s how the views are being communicated that is the issue, not what is being communicated.

11027993_10153228240696773_4766521774461750123_nI spend much of my time writing or posting content on the internet that is intended to educate and inform, and to encourage discussion.  These discussions often manifest themselves in the form of comment-threads with a large number of participants.  (Sadly, most of the more interesting and productive discussions occur on my Facebook page, and so aren’t visible on my WordPress sites.  I wish there were a way to replicate comments between the two!)

Every so often (especially in response to my posts on more controversial topics), I will get a hoard of what I mentally label as “Whacko Conspiracy Theorists” making a rash of comments that have little to do with what is being said, and everything to do with how they feel about what they feel the topic should be: often hijacking what had (or could have) been a productive discussion.

Such comments are a quandary for me: Yes, I want to encourage discussion.  But it is clear that many of these “Whacko Conspiracy Theorists” have no interest whatsoever in learning anything, or in developing a common ground of understanding (and a possible basis for united action on the topic at hand).

So, how does one identify those who are really “Whacko” as opposed to those who merely hold views different from my own?  It is all too easy to label any who disagree with you as “Whacko” and move on – which is what many do on both sides of the fence.  But, this is not productive.  Responding to others’ nutty comments with your own favorite flavor of nuttiness does not help the situation: it does not encourage dialog, and does not do anything to develop a common understanding.  What’s more, when you dig under the covers, you often find significant areas of agreement in terms of identifying what the basic problem is.  The disagreement usually comes with ones’ preferred solution.  We cannot hear what those areas of agreement are if we stay focused only on our disagreements.

Continue reading “What is a “Respectful Dialog”?”

The First Commandment

We have all learned to set and achieve goals for ourselves, and to own them. We learn to say “I did that” or “I own that” or “I am that.” We want to be (or have) the biggest, the best, or the fastest, and know how to achieve such things; and there is nothing wrong with this: it is part of our identity, one of the ways we define who we are to ourselves and to others.

But sometimes, we come to want something because in some way we think it will magnify or justify our identity, rather than just defining it. When that subtle line is crossed, a line we are rarely (if ever) aware of, we have begun making an idol of ourselves.

WallStreetBullStatueDelivered at ARK Community Church, Dalton MA

October 5, 2014.

Scriptures:
   Exodus 32:7-14  (The Message): The Golden Calf
   Acts 16:11-15 (NRSV): Paul Establishes the Philippian Church
   Philippians 4:1-9 (NRSV): Paul Advises the Philippian Church

Podcast:


Note: This sermon was presented at the church where I serve is Minister.  It is derived from last week’s sermon, which was given at my boyhood church, where I am from time to time invited to preach as a Pulpit Supply Minister: Centre Church in Brattleboro, VT.  Both sermons in turn have their genesis in a sermon given while I was a Seminarian at First Congregational Church (UCC) in West Boylston, MA.”  While this sermon is almost identical to last week’s sermon (and similar to the original from three years ago) there are some significant differences, partly due to my tailoring each message to address where each congregation was “at” at the time; and partly due to the evolution of my thinking and insights regarding the relevance and implications of the First Commandment for us in the modern world.


I’ve noticed that when young children play, it’s often about the process – or journey, if you will – not the goal.  For instance, when my son builds a tower with blocks and it gets too high, he knocks it down and starts over, and over, and over.

Such play is not about being the biggest, nor the best, nor the tallest, nor any other measure of success.  It’s about playing – about stacking blocks.  That’s where the fun is, that’s what makes it valuable.  What’s more, as parents, our judgment of the quality of the results is not important. …Well, at least not yet!  – But our participation is.

A couple of years ago, we invited some of our friends and their toddlers over for dinner. Once everyone arrived, we all went into the room where the kids were playing, and … guess what …  … … The Dads saw the kids playing with my son’s big cardboard blocks!

Well, as good fathers, we had to participate, didn’t we?

But our play was very different.  We didn’t build towers just for the fun of building.  Noooo…  We had to build the BIGGEST tower.  And, so we built a HUGE tower, nearly touching the ceiling, which in that room is quite high.

The Moms held the kids back from participating while we worked, saying they didn’t want them to topple the tower; but I think they were more afraid that someone would get trampled in all that furious activity.

When the tower was done, we took a few pictures, congratulated ourselves, and then the Moms let the kids go.  … … A few seconds later, we had to act as human umbrellas to prevent our little ones from getting seriously bonked as that tower came tumbling down. Continue reading “The First Commandment”

The Most Pernicious Idol of All

Discovery-Kids-Eco-Friendly-Cardboard-Building-Blocks-Assorted-Colors-0Sermon presented at Centre Congregational Church, UCC (Brattleboro, VT)
September 28, 2014

Scriptures:
Exodus 32:7-14  (NRSV): The Golden Calf

   Acts 16:11-15 (NRSV): Paul Establishes the Philippian Church
   Philippians 4:1-9 (NRSV): Paul Advises the Philippian Church

One thing I’ve noticed about my son, like most young children, is that when he plays, it’s about the process – or journey, if you will – not the goal.  For instance, when he’s building a tower with his blocks and it gets too high, he knocks them down and starts over again.

His play is not about being the biggest, nor the best, nor the tallest, nor any other human measure of success.  It’s about playing – about stacking blocks.  That’s where his fun is, that’s what makes it meaningful and valuable to him.  What’s more, his parents’ judgment of the value of his work is not important. …Well, at least not yet!  – But our participation in his play is important.

A couple of years ago we had a dinner for some of our friends and their toddlers at our home. Once everyone arrived, we all went into the room where the kids were playing, and … guess what …  … … The Dads saw the kids playing with AJ’s big cardboard blocks!

Well, as good fathers, we had to participate, didn’t we?

Continue reading “The Most Pernicious Idol of All”

Refusing to Relate

Shattered Cross
“Shattered Cross” By LeBacco

A few (well, more than a few) years ago, my family and I moved to a home a little south of the small town of Honey Brook, near the border between Lancaster and Chester Counties in Pennsylvania.

This was deep in the heart of “Amish Country.”  Our home was on a small hill, surrounded by farms, many of which were owned by Amish families.

War and disaster loomed large in the minds of many at that time, since Y2K and 9/11 had both occurred within the previous couple of years, and we as a nation were pumping ourselves up into a frenzy in advance of the invasion of Iraq.  This sense of impending Apocalypse was also fueled by the “Left Behind” series of books by Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins, which was a huge hit in bookstores at the time, as well as a major topic of discussion in the media.  (I might add that I loved the series, for the most part – good, fast paced and exciting stories.  But did I find their theology to be well grounded and realistic?  Not so much.)

A consistent theme many of my Amish (and ex-Amish) friends commented on is best summarized in this conversation I had with an Amish farmer’s wife who lived down the road from us (we frequently chatted when we stopped at her stand to buy eggs, chickens and produce):

“So, since you don’t rely on electricity or other modern technologies, when the world falls apart, you’ll be able to keep on going without too much problem.”

“No.  We may not have electrical or phone lines.  But we need diesel fuel to run our tractor; and we need diesel for the generator, which runs our milk coolers and other farm equipment.  If those diesel trucks stop coming, we can’t run the farm.  We’re just as dependent upon the rest of the world as you.”

Relationship: it’s always there, even when you don’t want it, inescapable and omnipresent.

So, in surveying the recent political flatulence over the issue of “Freedom of Religion” as portrayed in the recent and ongoing debate within Arizona and other states regarding who we can serve in our businesses and other organizations, I wonder: is the “right to serve only those that my religion allows me to” a real and achievable right, or a misguided attempt to delude oneself into thinking that we can simply dismiss those we find it uncomfortable to be around?

I can’t think of any group in this country more serious and steadfast on this issue of separating themselves from what they see as unwholesome influences then the Amish.  Many Amish avoid developing relationships with “outsiders” that are anything beyond the level of casual or business acquaintances.  In other words, they deal with “others” when they must, but only when they have to.  If they could, they would sever all ties with outsiders, but they can’t.  To survive in this world, they must accept some level of interaction with (and reliance upon) those whom they see as outsiders.

The proposed (and now vetoed) Arizona “Anti-Gay” Law (SB-1062) and all of the verbiage devoted to justifying it, didn’t go anywhere near as far as the Amish do.  All that it’s proponents wanted to do was to have the right to not serve those they found objectionable, for “religious reasons.”  No mention was made about their own reliance upon those who were “objectionable.”

If we’re really serious about isolating yourself from people whom we find to be objectionable, whatever the reason, then we need to do as the Amish do: isolate ourselves as completely as possible. After all, not only will “distasteful” people come through the shop’s door, but many of them are probably directly responsible for many of the products used or sold in our shops, as well as material we see in movie theatres, on TV or in print, not to mention the artwork on our walls, the furniture we sit in, and the clothes we wear.

We can’t have it both ways.  To say we won’t serve people whom we object-to, for whatever reason, means we must also be willing to reject anything they provide to us as well.  If not, then our objections are self-serving and disingenuous: not based upon a true and well grounded faith-based concern, but upon simply not wanting to have to deal with someone we find unsettling.

And yet, even the Amish have found they cannot go to that extreme.  We must rely on others, even others we do not find it comfortable to be around.  Relationship is inherent in not just the nature of human society, but in all of Creation.  Relationship – with God and with our fellow human beings – is also at the heart of the Christian Faith.  Relationship is inescapable, pervasive, and desirable.

And so I wonder why these issues keep on popping up under the guise of “Religious Freedom,” because it isn’t really about Religious Freedom, but about dictating to others what their place is – about confirming that where we stand, and our faith, is above reproach and not to be questioned, even though the validity of the others’ stance and their faith is to be questioned, and condemned.  It is about a refusal to acknowledge that we must relate with “The Other” in some way, even if we don’t want to.

“Religious Freedom” is also being used, in this instance, as a watchword for the politics of divisionforcing people into conflict with each other, building up reservoirs of hate and resentment that will give birth to even more sad and painful harvests in the future. 

And that is ultimately the greatest fallacy of all: that of using the excuse of wanting to exercise one’s faith without obstruction or interference by eliminating others from the discourse; by refusing to be in relationship with them.  And yet our faith calls for us to engage with others and to see in them not just God’s Love for them (and us), but God’s desire that we have fruitful and supportive relationships with all.

We cannot avoid relationship with others, no matter who they are.  God’s gift is that we have the freedom to choose to pursue that relationship, to nurture it to achieve all that it can offer us; or else to refuse to even try, and so limit ourselves, and thereby limit our ability to fulfill God’s call upon our lives. 

Peace,

– Allen

Copyright (c) 2014, Allen Vander Meulen III, all rights reserved.  I’m happy to share my writings with you, as long as you are not seeking (or gaining) financial benefit for doing so, and as long as proper credit for my authorship is given. (e.g., via a credit that gives my full name and/or provides a link back to this site – or just email me and ask!)

Be Holy (Redux)

sistine-chapel-ceiling-creation-of-adam-1510I’ve had a few thoughts since my recent post on Leviticus 19 and “Being Holy” on the nature of Holiness…

First, as I discussed in that post, “Being Holy” is a process.  A process implies that changes are happening as a result of that process.  So, when God says “You shall be Holy for I am Holy.”  … God is changed by the practice of being Holy, just as we will be changed.

This makes sense from a second point of view, which is that Holiness, based on the commands in Leviticus 19, is about having healthy relationships.  In other words, being Holy requires relationship.  This makes perfect sense to Christians, since the whole point of Christ walking here on earth as one of us was to bring each and every one of us into closer relationship with God.  Christ, after all, was prophesied as being “Emmanuel” – “God with Us” (Matthew 1:23).

Third, relationship is not a one way street.  Relationships change both parties.  If not, it would be a one way interaction, such as a child might have with a doll – such a relationship might change us, but it sure doesn’t change the doll!  Such is not a full relationship, but only a partial or truncated one.

So, when God says “You shall be Holy for I am Holy” in Leviticus 19:2.  It means Holiness is a two way thing.  We are Holy because we are in relationship with God – You shall be Holy for I am Holy” – and that Holy relationship changes the both of us for the better.

Holiness and relationship both require that God is vulnerable to us, just as we are vulnerable to God – and what could be a greater demonstration of this than Jesus’ death on the cross?  Or Jesus as a babe, completely dependent upon his parents for sustenance and support?  It would seem, then, that being vulnerable isn’t such a bad thing, it leaves our hearts open for change, and deeper and more meaningful relationships with others.

The Bible asks us to be open to God and God’s movement within our spirits.  That movement is a two way street, and that is what is at the heart of being Holy.

Be Holy!

Copyright (c) 2014, Allen Vander Meulen III, all rights reserved.  I’m happy to share my writings with you, as long as you are not seeking (or gaining) financial benefit for doing so, and as long as proper credit for my authorship is given (e.g., via a credit that gives my full name and/or provides a link back to this site).

Religious Illiteracy – Good or Bad?

osterhasen-0177I read an article on CNN a couple of years ago that quoted a social studies teacher who said that each year he asks his students “What is Easter about?”  He said they invariably bring up the Easter Bunny but never mention the significance of the holiday to Christianity.

I’ve also noted a tendency among some Churches and Christian leaders in recent years to “circle the wagons” and retreat into Orthodoxy or relatively conservative statements of doctrine.  This seems to be a reaction to the declining influence of organized Christianity in American society as a whole, and may also reflect a perception that more conservative, evangelical Christian groups are growing while “mainstream” Protestant denominations (and Catholicism) are on the decline.

I am convinced that by retreating into more orthodox expressions of the Christian faith, progressive Christians are abandoning the greatest advantage they have in the face of an increasingly secular society, which is their ability to engage with others in ways they can easily understand.   That Vermont teacher’s observation that young people are not able to identify Easter’s origins in the Christian Tradition (still less the underlying Judaic traditions), means they have no basis for comprehending words like “Christ”, “Jesus” or “Salvation”.  Such concepts mean nothing to them.  Therefore, using such terminology to try and reach them is fruitless.

Also, the only impression of Christianity many people have nowadays comes from news articles about the hate-filled activism of Westborough Baptist Church, and the anti-intellectualism, racism, misogynistic attitudes and/or homophobia of various religious groups and personalities.  So, if we use the same words such people use, even though the message itself is far different, we, as progressive Christians, are being lumped together with them in the public mind.  We are therefore perceived as out of touch and irrelevant to modern realities and concerns.  (And, as any politician will tell you, perception always trumps truth!)

Continue reading “Religious Illiteracy – Good or Bad?”

Leaping the Gap

I was sitting at my soundboard one day, running sound checks and preparing for worship, when a young woman, perhaps 16 years old, came in with her friends and sat down right in front me, such that I could plainly see what was printed on the back of her shirt in large white block letters: “I WASN’T EDUCATED IN NO F***ING WHITE MAN’S SCHOOL.” I was a bit shocked, as you might guess…

I’ve always been a strong proponent of equal rights and justice for all, but how that has been expressed changed radically one day in the fall of 1995, as a result of an encounter in an all-black church I was a member of at the time, and where I was the chief sound technician for the church’s worship services. …It was (and still is) a transformative moment for me…

I was sitting at my soundboard that morning, running sound checks and preparing for worship, when a young woman, perhaps 16 years old, came in with her friends and sat down right in front of my position in the church’s sanctuary, such that I could plainly see what was printed on the back of her shirt in large white block letters: “I WASN’T EDUCATED IN NO F***ING WHITE MAN’S SCHOOL.”  (Well, OK – I added the asterisks!)

Continue reading “Leaping the Gap”

God is Dead, God is Love

There’s been quite a bit of fuss over an nationwide ad campaign sponsored by some humanist groups who are determined to make us hear, in this the Christmas Season, that they believe God does not exist.

I agree with them.

These ads are reacting against a judgmental, limiting, inflexible god who’s main purpose seems to be to oppress humanity and destroy freedom.  I would have a hard time with such a god myself.  And so, I agree, the god they are reacting to does not exist.

The God I know is a god of relationship, a god of love.  Love transforms you.  Therefore, the god I know, a god of love, cannot be inflexible and unchanging.  Just as God’s love changes us, our love must change God.  My god is not a god of oppression, inflexible judgment or limitation.  My God is a god that would (and did) die for us; a God who wants to walk with us in the both the light and dark times of our lives.

So, my advice to those offended by these “God does not exist” advertisements is to agree with those who have such a viewpoint, then show your love to them, to those who seem to hate God.  What they hate is the pain inflicted on them in the name of a god that does not exist.  Let the love that God has placed in you show them that there is a different God, a real God, a God who loves them, too.  A god who gives us the freedom to love back, or to choose to not love at all. To love God is our choice, if it isn’t a choice, then God’s love would be meaningless.

 

Copyright (c) 2010, Allen Vander Meulen III, all rights reserved.  I’m happy to share my writings with you, as long as you are not seeking (or getting) financial benefit for doing so, and as long as proper credit for my authorship is given (via mention of my name on your site, or a link back to this site).